The Sixers have their first losing streak of the season, and they also lost an All-Star to injury Wednesday night.
They fell in Utah to the Jazz, 106-104, and Ben Simmons left early after sustaining an injury. Joel Embiid (27 points on 5 for 16 shooting, 16 rebounds) came back into the lineup after a two-game suspension for a fight last week with the Timberwolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns.
The Nuggets are up next for the 5-2 Sixers on Friday (9 p.m./NBCSP).
Here are observations from the loss:
Simmons exits early
Simmons left in the second quarter with a right shoulder injury. He was diagnosed with a minor sprain of the AC joint in his right shoulder and will be re-evaluated Thursday. Simmons appeared to injure the shoulder when he fell on his back with a little over 11 minutes left in the first, as you can see in the video above.
Though Simmons hasn’t met early-season expectations offensively, he entered Wednesday’s game with an NBA-best 20 steals.
The temporary replacement plan
After spending the first four years of his career with the Jazz, Raul Neto played much more than the Sixers would have planned in his return to Utah.
He defended Donovan Mitchell (24 points on 10 for 23 shooting) well overall, forcing him into several contested mid-range attempts during a stint late in the first quarter and early in the second. Neto had a ragged stretch in the third period, sprinting in for a layup attempt that hit the underside of the rim and then dribbling into traffic for a careless turnover on the Sixers’ next possession. He finished with 11 points on 5 for 11 shooting, four assists, four turnovers and three steals in 30 minutes.
Furkan Korkmaz, who started the second half in Simmons’ place, had six points on 2 of 4 shooting in 24 minutes.
In Simmons’ absence, Josh Richardson handled the ball more and followed up his worst game as a Sixer (8 points on 3 for 11 shooting vs. the Suns) with his best from a scoring standpoint. He scored 24 points on 8 for 13 shooting.
Not peak Embiid
Embiid wasn’t his sharpest and he looked tired at times, putting his hands on his knees and not exerting effort except when he absolutely needed to.
A one legged, Dirk Nowitzki-esque shot was the highlight of his night.
Joel Embiid....just being Joel Embiid.— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) November 7, 2019
He's working his regular magic with a very normal one footed shot for a pair! pic.twitter.com/z5eySV8Kti
Though Embiid drew 18 free throws, Brown thought he should have had two more in the third quarter and was assessed a technical foul for vehemently expressing that opinion. It was a frustrating game across the board for the Sixers, though they hung around and cut Utah’s lead to two points with a little over two minutes to go after being down by as many as 13 in the second half.
Time to tweak the pick-and-roll defense?
The Sixers’ preference with pick-and-roll defense has been to “force the ball off the screen” and drop the big man. We’ve seen during this road trip how that approach is often ineffective when the ball handler’s defender fails to work over the screen and falls well behind the play, resulting in open mid-range jumpers. Mitchell made his first four shots of the game Wednesday, including a couple of uncontested mid-range looks off pick-and-rolls.
While Embiid is an excellent overall defender, he’s not quite as flexible in pick-and-roll coverage as Al Horford. It’s understandable why there’s a team-wide desire to drop the big man into what assistant coach Ime Udoka calls “center field.”
At some point, though, perhaps the Sixers will consider tempering their guard’s aggression in defending the initial ball screen. Richardson and Matisse Thybulle are skilled at the “rearview contest,” but, with how often the Sixers’ guards are being wiped out of the play, it might make sense to try some more frequent variations to their core philosophy in that area.
Harris and Horford drop off
Horford and Tobias Harris combined for 104 points on 56.9 percent shooting during Embiid’s suspension. They faded into the background a bit against the Jazz offensively when Embiid was on the floor, with the odd burst into the spotlight.
TOBI THROWDOWN.— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) November 7, 2019
Harris clears the way the two-handed slam! pic.twitter.com/5d74zTnmiC
The two totaled 23 points on 7 for 25 shooting Wednesday. While the Sixers did attempt to center the offense more around Horford early in the third quarter and ran plenty of pick-and-roll with Harris early in the fourth, both missed some shots they’d normally convert.
The Sixers’ post offense around Embiid was largely stationary. While that’s in part by design to provide Embiid with outlets in specific floor spots, the Sixers could use a little more movement. It would also help if Embiid held the ball less before making his move — the whole offense sometimes comes to a stop when he’s down low.
In Embiid’s first game back, though, that’s not a serious concern. One can understand his instinct to be deliberate with the ball after not playing a competitive game for a week.
If Embiid further develops as a playmaker and ball mover, more opportunities will open up for Harris and Horford when the starters are on the floor.
A bad night on the boards
The Sixers entered Wednesday’s game having grabbed 55 percent of available rebounds, best in the NBA.
They got outrebounded for the second straight game, and the margin Wednesday was significant —Utah had a 50 to 42 edge.
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